The coaches for the Houston Rockets and Houston Texans both have one big problem
This was one I was planning to write for a while. I really wanted to discuss Mike D’Antoni’s tenure with the Houston Rockets, but then again, I didn’t want to pass up the chance to discuss Bill O’Brien’s tenure either. Also, while D’Antoni has moved on, Bill O’Brien remains.
What made me most interested in writing about this was social media. Everybody, including myself, has been quite adamant on the internet about the need to move on from Bill O’Brien. His questionable trades and inability to lead this team to even as far as the AFC championship despite all of his years here have been quite indicating of how his time has gone here in Houston.
At the same time, Houston Rockets fans have expressed the need to move on from Mike D’Antoni. However, Mike D’Antoni had shown plenty success with Houston (except for the ring), and nearly could’ve won a championship for this city had CP3 not pulled his hamstring at the worst time possible. Rockets made it past the first round under him every year, and while Harden has had some of his best years under him, D’Antoni even won a coach of the year award at Houston.
So why is it that 2 different coaches with such a different amount of success have an equal amount of hatred from Houston sports fans?
Is it because us Houston sports fans are greedy for wins? Of course, we are because our only job is to defend our favorite players on the internet while we are screaming at the TV because our teams are losing by 40, but that’s what makes the games fun, right? In all seriousness though, it was a question I pondered for a while.
For most Houston sports fans, the answer to the question seems pretty clear. Many wondered if Mike D’Antoni would ever take the Houston Rockets over the hump, while many have been pretty assured on the idea that Bill O’Brien hasn’t even gotten the Houston Texans that close to the hump.
But why? Why is the hump such a difficult part for O’Brien and D’Antoni to overcome?
There is one very strong similarity between the two, believe it or not, despite their large variance in success. However, the best way to understand the similarity is to review exactly what it was that caused the similarity. If we have to go way back to the beginning, so be it.
What is the similarity, you ask? Don’t worry, I’ll get to it.
The Mike D’Antoni Story Part 1: A sense of offensive revival
While there have been many who praise D’Antoni for his time here for the Houston Rockets, there are many fans who would rather wish it never happened. I think a reminder for why he was hired in the first place would be really helpful for everybody, regardless of how somebody chooses to remember him. I will be discussing this for Bill O’Brien as well.
Why was Mike D’Antoni Hired?
It all started in 1492…
Just kidding. *cricket sounds*
Anyways, the Houston Rockets had just come off losing in the first round to the Golden State Warriors under interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. After a failed Harden and Howard pairing, it was clear that this team needed a different sense of direction. Harden was beginning to enter his prime years and it was crucial that he had the head coach behind him that could maximize Harden’s skill set.
At the same time, Daryl Morey needed a coach that could buy into his mathematics and use it on the court in the best way possible. As Morey has emphasized, he believes that the most efficient shots that can be taken are 3’s, dunks, layups, and free throws. Anything other than that would be considered atrocious (even though Harden had, and probably still has, a deadly midrange jumper).
The 7 seconds or less. The belief that Steve Nash’s success under D’Antoni could be replicated, maybe even reach another level, under playmaking guard James Harden. The offense previously seemed to have little flow with Harden at guard while trying to have post ups with Howard that weren’t getting the team anywhere. This new offense would flow like a river down the stream, and the chance for D’Antoni to revive his career along with matching the kind of offense that the Golden State Warriors ran seemed like a temptation that was too much to pass up on. They could surround Harden with shooters and make him even a deadlier weapon than he already was.
Was the main goal to win a championship? Of course. But there had to be many people in the Houston Rockets organization who raised eyebrows on the thought of profit and interest that would result from the pairing of D’Antoni and Harden, regardless of whether the ring was brought to the Houston Rockets or not.
D’Antoni may have not won a championship here for the Houston Rockets, but did he fit with Daryl Morey, maximize Harden, and build an offense that attracted a lot more attention than the team originally had (including love and hatred)?
You tell me.
Coaches, however, do have a weakness somewhere, and that one weakness is likely what drove D’Antoni out of Houston. Similarly, it’s an issue that Bill O’Brien has.
What is it you ask? We will get to it.
The Bill O’Brien Story: A chance to copy the deadly dynasty
Why was Bill O’Brien hired?
Let’s go back to two seasons before Bill O’Brien was hired. The Houston Texans were rolling with an 11-1 offense with a run game led by Arian Foster that made the Texans bootlegs led by Matt Schaub nearly impossible to defend.
I mean just look at these highlights (you will need to go to youtube directly to watch them), it seemed so rare that Schaub was under pressure when he ran those bootleg passes, and I never saw an offense like this from the Houston Texans ever since. Even though these highlights were from the 2011 season, the 2012 season offense was not all that different.
As powerful as this offense was, they had an issue known as the New England Patriots. Their adjustments led by head coach God Bill Belichick along with the dominant quarterback play from Tom Brady was too much of a handful for the Houston Texans. The New England Patriots were the reason that the Houston Texans went from 11-1 to 11-2 that season and they were also the reason that the Texans were knocked out of the playoffs that very same year. While the patriots weren’t necessarily the Rocket’s Warriors, they still brought on issues that the Texans would have a tough time overcoming.
Then the very next season, everything fell apart. The Texans went from their best season in franchise history to their worse season in franchise history. Schaub started believing all of a sudden that the opponent’s defense was his wide receivers, and he couldn’t stop throwing pick-sixes. Case Keenum went 0-8 in his starts with the Texans and the Houston Texans finished 2-14 that year. Gary Kubiak was then fired and the Houston Texans would officially enter the new head coach search.
But the patriots never left Rick Smith’s mind. (the former GM of the Houston Texans). Odds are he read this article at some point in time.
Bill O’Brien was the offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots when they had the best offense in the league. He was also known as a great player development coach who would be perfect for a Houston Texans rebuilding team, at least in Rick Smith’s eyes.
Rick Smith was fully confident that Bill O’Brien could replicate success like the patriots, and even though he may not build a dynasty, he would put this team in contention for years to come and win Super Bowls. He could build a New England Patriots type roster that would excel using skilled players that would surround major star players.
Here we are 6 years later. You tell me how that worked out. Don’t worry, we will for sure look into his major weakness.
The Mike D’Antoni Story Part 2: Close, but not close enough
Despite the fact that Mike D’Antoni was unable to lead the Houston Rockets to a championship, I would like to give him a huge shoutout for the amount of success he gave this team.
He proved numerous doubters wrong, as while his teams were outstanding on the offensive end, defense was always a liability under Mike D’Antoni. However, when CP3 arrived, the Houston Rockets had a top 5 offense and arguably the best defense in the league. Had it not been for CP3’s injury, we could have a ring and it would also be likely that Mike D’Antoni would have a contract right now had it gone through. To top it off, many doubted that the duo of James Harden and Chris Paul could make it work and share the ball. However, they found themselves one game away from knocking out one of the greatest NBA dynasties.
Harden was maximized under the D’Antoni system, as in these 4 years, Harden had earned the MVP award, a 3-time scoring champ, and led the league in assists his first year under D’Antoni. It would be likely that Harden could’ve led the league in assists a few more times if the Houston Rockets never acquired CP3 or Russell Westbrook.
Mike D’Antoni even managed to maximize Russell Westbrook in February when small ball was unleashed, as Russell Westbrook was averaging 30 PPG that month and was a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, trading Clint Capela hurt James Harden, as Clint Capela was Harden’s lob threat that always made Harden a little more comfortable driving into the lane. Regardless, however, I give D’Antoni credit for making Harden and Westbrook work well for stretches throughout the season despite their major differences in play-styles.
Without a doubt, over the 4 years, the Houston Rockets offense was entertaining and exceeded expectations under D’Antoni. He has also taken huge strides in emphasizing on defense, and the Rockets definitely were in contention for a ring every year.
So where did it all go wrong?
Mike D’Antoni has one weakness that caused many other issues. These issues were arguably the reason why the Rockets never won the championship under him. These issues all rooted from one weakness that never went away in D’Antoni’s 4 years in Houston.
That’s it. That is the one D’Antoni weakness that never failed to show up at the most inconvenient times. The constant 8 man rotation in playoffs that burned players out by the second playoff round (usually). The constant shooting from the 3 point line when the players can’t buy a bucket, which would shoot the Rockets out of a game. One of James Harden’s most lethal shots, the mid-range, was taken away because it was considered, “inefficient.” Mike D’Antoni’s refusal to adjust a game-plan drastically to continue to score if the Rockets remained cold from 3 was frequently noticed. The only time the Rockets were able to win games despite cold shooting nights consistently was when they had a top defense, but unfortunately, the Rockets were never able to reclaim that status under D’Antoni after that season ended.
D’Antoni was always going to stand by his rotations and shot selections no matter what people say. It was always, “ride and die by the three”.
Well, newsflash, we were always dying by the three when we needed them to fall in the most. Each and every time. If the 27 missed three’s didn’t tell us that, then I don’t know what will (I am going to ignore the fact that Scott Foster had missed a few 3 point shots that should’ve been fouls to try and prove my point).
There was always something wrong every year. Whether it’s injuries, cold shooting, or tiredness from the 8 man rotation, there was always something that prevented the Houston Rockets from reaching the trophy under D’Antoni. The bubble was likely D’Antoni’s best chance at winning, without having the best defense in the league, as the players were rested and had no choice but to increase teammate chemistry with each other since they were all forced to live in the same hotel. If they weren’t going to win then, then they likely wouldn’t have won under D’Antoni. Ever. It’s just a likely outcome that we will have to live with.
The Bill O’Brien Story Part 2: No comment
The “Not my job” guy.
It doesn’t matter if the referees get the call wrong. It’s the coaches’ job to try and change it.
2 words to describe O’Brien’s era in Houston to this point: Unpredictable and inconsistent.
Unless if you want to call his ability to disappoint fans as a consistent factor.
If you asked me what I think Bill O’Brien would do for this team when he was first hired, I would’ve told you that he would be a solid coach who can properly manage a game and can really establish a solid offense with the right players.
If you told me that he was going to kick out 2 GM’s, trade away De’Andre Hopkins (for nickels and dimes), score 30 points one game and 13 points the next game, and then trade for a bunch of veterans in 2020 because of a pandemic, I would’ve probably told you to shut the hell up.
Shows everybody here how much I know.
Under Bill O’Brien’s first 2 years here, I never really questioned his work because I understood that he was working with smoke and mirrors at QB. In O’Brien’s first year, the Texans went 9-7, which isn’t bad for a team that was supposed to be rebuilding. We then reached the playoffs the very next year, until Brian Hoyer threw that game away with all of the turnovers. Then in comes Brock Osweiler, and I wrote an entire article on how this went. Multiple actually. Even though O’Brien never got to state his opinion on the Osweiler signing before it happened, I was starting to question his ability to lead this team where they need to go.
3 years of Deshaun Watson and numerous trades later along with a bunch of garbage points, I know exactly where I stand on thoughts about Bill O’Brien.
This man straight up compared Hopkins to Aaron Hernandez, while on the phone with Hopkins. Like, how the hell is that fixing a broken relationship?
I didn’t even know what to call his time here so far. I mean look at what I called Part 2. No comment. I look back, and all I think of is so much stuff going wrong that I don’t even know how to start. I think about scoring 30 points one game and 13 the next. I think about the numerous times we got whopped by top tier teams only to score garbage points to make the loss look less painful. I figured a few tweets and articles would help explain my thoughts and feelings.
Does this sound any familiar? “I don’t know. I need to coach better. I need to make better plays. This loss is on me and we need to find a way to win.”
This is O’Brien’s scheme. This is O’Brien’s roster. He is the GM and the coach. He has built everything this team does. We shouldn’t be hearing questions and unable to figure it out after you have let go of several star players for nickels and dimes.
It’s been 7 damn years. I’m hearing the same thing over and over.
It’s like a broken record. Each time the same results occur and each time I find myself ranting about why need to move on from O’Brien because the same mistakes continue. Inconsistent offense. Bad time management. Going for 4th down at the worse possible times. Trading De’Andre Hopkins, who is currently breaking records in Arizona and a huge reason for why the Cardinals are 2-0, while the Houston Texans are getting blown out by the Chiefs and sort of blown out by the Ravens. David Johnson hasn’t exactly been that game-changer so far.
Could the Houston Texans go on a random 9 game win streak again out of nowhere? Sure. But that won’t make us forget how we played against two powerhouses.
If this team is what we call, “Tough. Smart. Dependable.” and a veteran type year, then I am assuming that the best we can achieve is mediocrity. I understand that we are only 2 games into the season and this is a different offense, but the fact that we never got close to beating either of the two powerhouses in the AFC is quite alarming about where our season is headed.
What is O’Brien’s weakness you ask?
His demand for power. His determination to try and fit what he did with the New England Patriots with the Houston Texans. His inability to work with GM’s and kicking out two of them already. His constant frustration on show when things aren’t going his way and trying to force an offense that hasn’t even cracked near top 10 in the league when he’s supposed to be considered an offensive guru. Trading players that he can’t get along with because they have a little bit of arrogance and ego.
If Hopkins’ contract demands were too large, why didn’t O’Brien let him hold out and see if you can get a better deal? What was the rush to trade him? He went and messed up an offense while signing some off the bench players and drafting some players for defense.
The Houston Texans defense is yet to force a turnover this season and couldn’t possibly get much worse at run defense.
This is all happening when we have a top 5 QB in the NFL. Let that sink in. When the Houston Texans had a roster they didn’t have a QB. Now they have a QB, yet they don’t have a solid roster around him that can help this team compete amongst the powerhouses.
Deshaun Watson hasn’t looked like himself these past 2 games. I love Deshaun and I’m going to stick by him, but it’s obvious he has struggled so far. Is it the coaching, roster, or himself? I have no damn clue.
What the hell happened, and what the hell is going to happen?
Overall, even though the success between O’Brien and D’Antoni is significantly different, the stubbornness is what makes them hard for fans to tolerate. Teams that win have coaches that are understanding, select the right players to bring to the roster, are flexible with adjustments, and can work well with their front office.
Neither of these coaches have shown that they can fill all of these qualities. With the Houston Rockets looking for their next coach, I certainly hope they are looking for a coach that can fill most, if not all, of these qualities. If there are missing qualities from that list in the next Houston Rockets head coach, then there will be a missing trophy from the James Harden era.
As for the Houston Texans, I would suggest something, but it doesn’t even matter. I just don’t see a scenario of him moving on with the Houston Texans, and it looks like we will be in for a rough ride this year unless our defense gets it together real quickly and the offense starts to click.
Thanks for making it this far.